Sunday, January 3, 2010

On teaching what they want...

I sat down to make plans for finishing To Kill a Mockingbird with my freshmen and stared searching for Nollywood films to finish out my seniors' work on Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Yes, Nollywood. The Cinema of Nigeria. I found a few clips on you tube and realized my students would not appreciate the work. As I nixed the idea, I found myself thinking of what they would want to read and view, what would pique their interest.

I no longer thought of what they needed, as in something they had to put effort into (i.e. Things Fall Apart), but rather something they would enjoy and that I could still teach some of the basics of literature (symbolism, theme, characterization, author's purpose). Some of the best literature that I read in high school, college and grad school was that in which I could connect. I wanted to find something my students could relate with but still expand their literary circle as well; yet I wasn't willing to teach Urban Lit. and I still wanted to stay somewhat inside of the antiquated curriculum.

As we finished Things Fall Apart and I learned I was public enemy number one around the school, I asked the students how they felt about finishing the text. Many felt relieved that it was over. Some felt they learned about a different culture. Some felt they had accomplished something, either because they had never read anything like this before or because they had never read an entire novel before. Even though several students stopped reading altogether, and some whined through the entire process, at the very minimum together we had actually accomplished something.

Now, I was eager to continue talking about Nigeria and other African countries as they exist in present day. With the help of a friend, I was reminded of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I found a website, (and then her official site) and began searching for articles and stories that could transport my students out of turn-of-century colonialism and into the effects of colonialism and Westernization on this country.

We're going to finish the quarter with "Nigeria's immorality is about hypocrisy, not miniskirts," and a discussion on gender roles in Achebe's late 19th Century Nigeria and present-day Nigeria as well as in the U.S. Then we will read, "My Mother, the Crazy African" to continue our discussion about gender, but also to open up a conversation about immigration. We're also going to read "Cell One" from the new short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (Thanks, Heather). I'm curious to see what my majority black students will have to say, and hopefully how their stereotypes and ideas will be transformed.
I'm excited about bringing Adichie into my classroom. I hope the students will be excited and feel like they are reading something they "want" to read.